Has Swine Flu Created the Purell Period of History?

BlogHer Original Post

Everywhere I go, I see those signs in the bathrooms explaining how to properly wash hands. Reminding me to wash my hands. And I ask myself, does anyone NOT wash their hands after going to the bathroom? And if so, how can we call ourselves a civilized society?

But I get it. Everyone's terrified of swine flu, the latest scourge on our populace, and now we must all focus on the hand washing. With many bubbles and much hot water. This is hard enough to get out of adults, let alone kids. However, I'm noticing a trend I find almost as disturbing as not enough hand washing in my daughter. She's become addicted to hand sanitizer.

She's not getting it from me, so she must be getting it from school.

She gets home from school.

She uses hand sanitizer.

She does her homework.

She uses hand sanitizer.

Time to eat? Time for more hand sanitizer.

Done eating? Better get some hand sanitizer.

You see the pattern. I finally removed the hand sanitizer from the bathroom, thinking if she had to go through the steps of getting her hands wet, using soap and drying off, she might not do it so often. Germs are not good, but neither is obsessive hand washing. I'm also a little afraid of hand sanitizer. Partly because I've seen how much my kid uses and I know if she licks her hand before it dries she'll go down like a third-day drunk. But mostly because I'm afraid she'll kill her natural immunity by never giving it the chance to develop. I think you can be too rich, too thin, and too antiseptic. Des at The Christian Ranter writes:

The stock holders of Johnson & Johnson must be giddy, knowing that degermifying your hands has become an obsessive compulsive disorder.  An entire industry has grown out of a petrie dish of panic.

I'm going to step out and quote a dude now, because this quote captures my fear perfectly. Bobman from Bobman's Rants writes:

At the heart of it, we are all animals. We are not made to live in a sterile environment, our bodies are made to adapt to nearly ANY environment. They do this by being exposed to things and building up immunities. If you've never been exposed to anything because you try to Purell everything out of existence, your body has no idea how to fight for itself. Every year we hear people say that doctor's shouldn't give out antibiotics unless absolutely necessary, because the bacteria will adjust and create "superbacteria." And yet we're doing the same thing to every facet of our world, trying to purify it and in the process making the world MORE dangerous for ourselves.

But what do the mommies think? I talk to other parents at work all day long, and most of them seem poised carefully between not wanting to freak out over nothing and terror that their children will get sick, which despite my wish to be tough is true for me, too. But there are some who willingly admit to being germaphobes. I remember a good friend of mine telling me the best part of her Disney cruise was all the Purell around. "It was so clean!" she practically chirped. Here's an account from Alexstyles of WCAI's Stylex as she attempts to be dirtier:

For now, I’ll take baby steps: let that random person use my cell phone without  swabbing it in alcohol after; eat one of those “Hep B” mints that sits out in the bowl at restaurants; enjoy an open salad bar, grabbing each and every dirty tong; perhaps let someone lick my ice cream, without throwing it out afterward.  So, to my embarrassment and shame, I confess my “clean” sin. I’m working on it folks…just don’t use my pen…

I admit when I see my five-year-old use hand sanitizer six times in one hour while she's sitting home with me in our only-us-pigeons germhole, I wonder how many times a day she has been using it at school. I wonder what it's doing to her five-year-old immune system. No, I don't want her to get sick. I certainly don't want her to get flu, porcine or otherwise. But I can't help but fear that gel. I'm starting to hate that gel. What do you think about the Purell Period of history?

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